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From the Estes Valley Land Trust via The Estes Park News:
On February 13 at 5 p.m., the Estes Valley Land Trust will host the Love Our Land Social at the Estes Valley Community Center. Drop-ins are welcome, refreshments will be provided and this event is free and open to the public.
Since 1987, the Estes Valley Land Trust, along with its partners, has preserved nearly 10,000 acres of land in and around Estes Park. “Our first 30 years were defined by major conservation successes, such as working with landowners to help them preserve Hermit Park Open Space, Meadowdale Ranch, and the Eagle Rock School,” said Jeffrey Boring, Executive Director of the Estes Valley Land Trust. “We want to continue to engage our partners and the broader community to plan the future of land conservation across the region.”
While many acres of land in the valley have already been preserved, there are more than 28,000 acres still available for development. The land trust is hosting a social event to receive public feedback on the types of land that are most important to preserve in the future.
“There is a tremendous amount of support for land conservation around Estes, but we want to know what types of land the community considers the most important to conserve,” Boring said. Lands that protect the most iconic views, lands that are critical for wildlife habitat, new outdoor recreation opportunities, or lands of historic significance are all potential conservation opportunities.
The public will be invited to complete a survey to help prioritize these conservation opportunities.
Results from the survey will be used to develop a regional Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan. The plan will highlight land conservation goals and include partnerships that could be formed to preserve key areas. “The Estes Valley Land Trust Board of Directors will consider the Open Space and Outdoor Plan our strategic plan and will guide our future conservation efforts,” said Boring.
The plan may also help guide the Town’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and identify where growth and development is appropriate and where it is not. “Consideration of open space and outdoor recreation opportunities is a critical part of developing a good Comprehensive Plan,” said Travis Machalek, Town Administrator, Town of Estes Park. “The Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan will be a valuable source document as the community works to create an updated Comprehensive Plan for Estes Park.”
The communities of Estes Park, Allenspark, Glen Haven, Drake, and residents of unincorporated Larimer County have a long legacy of preserving land and protecting habitat. The Love Our Land Social is an opportunity to continue this legacy and chart the future of land conservation.
The Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan is funded by a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado and matching funds from the Town of Estes Park, Larimer County, Estes Park Economic Development Corporation and the Estes Valley Board of Realtors.
From The Mountain Mail (Brian McCabe):
After a dry October and early November, the 2020 water year has been mixed for Colorado.
As of Feb. 1, statewide snowpack was up, at 109 percent of median, while year-to-date precipitation is at 88 percent.
However, much of the state has been hit by several storms in the past few days, which have not yet been taken into account.
“After a particularly dry late summer and fall, December provided substantial snow accumulation in Colorado,” Karl Wetlaufer, Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist, said. “January then followed with mostly below average precipitation, with southern Colorado being the driest, an area that received the most accumulation in December.”
That means while snowpack is above normal across the state, the precipitation deficit has led to streamflow forecasts below average statewide.
Currently Colorado is at about two-thirds of its normal peak snowpack in mid-April.
Reservoir storage across the state has dropped throughout the water year on average, but not across the board, with some reservoirs up while others are down.
Statewide, reservoir storage is at 105 percent of average, with only the Arkansas and Rio Grande basins below 100 percent, at 96 and 85, respectively.
However, the state average is 83 percent compared to last year’s percentage of average reservoir storage, with South Platte and Yampa/White basins at 104 and 103 percent.
The combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basins are lowest at 57 percent.
The Arkansas Basin, South Platte River and combined Yampa and White river basins, where the average of forecast values is 96, 97 and 98 percent of normal, have the most plentiful water supply forecasts, with outlooks for spring and summer streamflows to be close to average.
Snowpack in the Arkansas Basin is above normal at 119 percent, tied with the South Platte Basin as highest in the state.
Precipitation for January, however, was 62 percent of average, bringing water year-to-date precipitation to 87 percent of average.
The Upper Arkansas Basin is currently at 130 percent of median and 123 percent of last year’s median. Last year saw a lot of precipitation in late winter and early spring months.
The Cucharas and Huerfano sub-basin is at 97 percent of median, the Apishapa sub-basin is at 89 percent, and the Purgatoire sub-basin is at 105 percent.
Reservoir storage at the end of December was 96 percent of average, compared to 89 percent last year for the Arkansas Basin.
From NOAA (Michelle L’Heureux):
Just kidding! But, oh well, you clicked and now we’re all going to go for a walk together down polar vortex lane. Six years ago, “polar vortex” became the latest weather term to enter the public conversation; since then, it’s been blamed—sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly—for every outbreak of wintry weather. Because I’m generally considered an ENSO expert, I’m inviting along some of my polar vortex friends to chaperone* our walk.
So, let’s start with a quiz. When you read/hear “The Polar Vortex is here!” you should:
(a) Put on your long johns and immediately consume as many hot beverages as possible. (b) Lock the doors to protect yourself from a wintery tornado. (c) Check with your local forecast and prepare as you normally would for a forecast of cold (or warm) temperatures. Or, as we like to say, be weather ready and climate smart.
The answer is (c), but, hey, if you really want to pick the other two options, we’re not going to stop you.
If you’re a meteorologist hearing the term, you would also grumble a bit at that headline because the polar vortex doesn’t come and go. It’s not “here” because it’s always there in our atmosphere, spinning around the winter hemispheres (Footnote #1).
Look up as you walk. Way up.
In scientific papers reaching back to the 1940s, polar vortex generally refers to the atmospheric circulation in the stratosphere, not the troposphere. In polar regions, the bottom edge of the stratosphere starts about 5 miles above the ground and extends upwards to around 30 miles. The troposphere is the layer between the ground and the stratosphere, and is where we work and play.
Darryn Waugh and colleagues did a great job covering the history of the polar vortex in this article from a couple years ago. In it, they point out that although knowledge of a stratospheric vortex extends back to the late 1940s, it was later on (1970s to 2000s) that the term “polar vortex” was more frequently used to describe weather closer to the surface. This is why they recommend that folks refer to the tropospheric polar vortex or the stratospheric polar vortex. These vortexes are different!
They’re different, but there are times when the two polar vortexes are in similar positions and are more strongly linked. Let me explain how the troposphere and stratosphere are different, and then we’ll talk about those special times.
In the troposphere: the low road
Weather in the troposphere can be a bit messy, but colder air tends to be relegated closer to the pole while warmer air resides in the Tropics. Between them are the middle (mid-) latitudes, where warmer and colder air often clash and do battle. It’s quite uncomfortable going from 70°F one day to 30°F the next, so we forgive you for wanting to yell “polar vortex!” because yikes! [but please don’t] However, the rapid changes in temperature can simply be described by the passage of a weather front, a sharp boundary between different air masses.
Thus, the tropospheric polar vortex is a slightly wordier way to describe the separation between the generally colder air to the north and the warmer air to the south. The edge of the vortex is characterized by a jet stream or river of fast flowing air that separates the air masses. The jet appears very sinuous on the map below (red/purple shading indicates the fastest winds) and sort of looks like a snake slithering around the hemisphere. (That analogy gave me the creeps too. Sorry!).
When the tropospheric polar vortex expands, and the jet stream slides to the south, it will increase cold air outbreaks (Footnote #2). But the vortex can also contract, with the jet stream moving north, which means warmer weather where you live (we saw this happening over the U.S. and Eurasia during parts of December 2019 and January 2020).
In the stratosphere: the high road
Then there is the stratosphere, which most of the time could not care less about what is happening near the surface. The stratosphere is a quieter, generally much less exciting place than the troposphere. The stratospheric polar vortex edge is located where the strongest winds occur, another jet stream (a jet that is at much higher altitude) that sort of just hums along without the messy frontal clashes that happen in the troposphere. It’s kind of just chill with air flowing along in a more or less concentric circle around the pole.
Sometimes the stratospheric vortex is doing its own thing, whirling around, and then—all of a sudden—the troposphere might start whacking the stratosphere from below! Hey! Mind your own business, troposphere! That really hurts! (important caveat in Footnote #3)
This jostling usually happens during the winter. The atmospheric circulation in the troposphere can get wild enough that it will shove momentum and heat upward into the stratosphere, which, understandably, can upset the stratospheric polar vortex. And, woo boy, you do NOT want to mess with the stratospheric polar vortex. Sometimes the stratospheric winds will simply weaken or strengthen, but when the stratosphere gets really upset, it will literally break down in an epic tantrum: A Sudden Stratospheric Warming.
These are also the times when scientists and forecasters start excitedly talking about the polar vortex to their friends. Mainly it’s because these events are highly disruptive to the planetary circulation and are times when the breakdown in the stratospheric vortex can weaken the tropospheric vortex. Amy Butler (@DrAHButler) has talked about this sort of phenomenon before on our blog, so check these posts (here and here) for a refresh.
Below is an image showing pressure departures averaged over the Arctic during a sudden warming event in early 2013. The red shading in early to mid-January 2013 is vertical, which indicates that a weaker vortex (and above-average pressures) extends all the way from the surface (bottom edge) through the stratosphere (top edge). Then, from mid-January onwards, the weaker vortex (red shading) descends from the stratosphere into the troposphere (the blue shading indicates lower pressures or where the vortex is stronger than normal).
Sudden Stratospheric Warmings and other instances when the stratospheric polar vortex weakens can influence the tropospheric circulation and increase the chances of cold air outbreaks over the middle latitudes (and warmer conditions near the Arctic). These surface impacts are not a given – climate forecasts are probabilistic for a reason. The variability from event to event can make it challenging to incorporate these impacts into forecasts (Footnote #4).
The stratospheric polar vortex can also strengthen, which counterintuitively (polar strengthening!) may actually mean above-average temperatures for parts of North America and Eurasia. In fact, it’s possible that the strengthening of the stratospheric polar vortex has loaded the dice in favor of a more mild winter (December 2019- January 2020). In cases such as these, we gently suggest that you take off your sweater.
* Thanks to Amy Butler (NOAA ESRL), Darryn Waugh (John Hopkins), Craig Long (NOAA CPC), and Laura Ciasto (NOAA CPC) for their reviews and suggestions.
(1) Within this article I’m going to mostly focus on the polar vortexes that swirl around the Northern Hemisphere, but keep in mind there are polar vortexes in the Southern Hemisphere too, which speed around the southern oceans and Antarctica. The stratosphere and troposphere can only be coupled during the fall through spring (approximately October-April in the Northern Hemisphere). This is because the lower stratospheric flow is usually westerly (blowing from west to east) and therefore can be disturbed by waves propagating upwards from the troposphere. During the summer, the stratospheric polar vortex breaks down and winds are mostly easterly and therefore it isn’t sensitive to the troposphere.
(2) Keep in mind that cold air outbreaks do not have to be associated with a hemispheric-wide change in the tropospheric polar vortex. Often, there is a displacement in the tropospheric polar vortex over just a certain region (jet shifts south), so that particular region experiences a cold air outbreak. Likewise, at the same time the tropospheric polar vortex is sliding to the south in one region (e.g. eastern North America), it could be shifting north in another region (e.g. western North America). This northward displacement could have the effect of reducing the number of cold air outbreaks and leading to more mild conditions.
(3) Emphasis on the sometimes. There is active research that is looking at whether an increase in (or “whack” from) anomalous tropospheric wave activity is required to instigate significant changes in the stratosphere. Other stratospheric conditions may be needed such as having a certain vortex geometry or internal resonance (de la Cámara et al., 2019). So it is also the case that an increase in tropospheric wave activity could sometimes be reflecting these stratospheric changes and not causing them.
(4) Sometimes a sudden stratospheric warming does not lead to a clear change in the tropospheric vortex (and exerts less of an influence on surface temperature). In fact, January-March 2019 is such a case (image here). The weakening of the polar vortex appeared to have trouble getting below ~200mb and into the troposphere. If you are curious and want to examine more sudden stratospheric warmings, check out Amy’s webpage where she and her colleagues document them through history.
Here’s the release from Governor Polis’ office:
Gov. Jared Polis and members of the Polis administration released the following statement ahead of a federal field hearing in Denver about the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a bedrock federal environmental law.
“While I would strongly support reasonable NEPA reforms that speed up construction permits and reduce red tape, it is troubling to see the White House instead propose changes that would undermine the fundamental purposes of the law and increase the danger of disasters including pipeline leaks and explosions,” said Governor Polis. “Maintaining the federal role as custodians of our environment – to prevent things like costly pipeline spills and contamination – is critical to ensure we protect our state’s most precious environmental resources that support our economy and our way of life.”
Shoshana Lew, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation is set to testify at the hearing today.
“When we look to the history of transportation in America, there are countless places where infrastructure fundamentally changed the shape of communities — be it through roads that connected or disconnected neighborhoods; arterials that bifurcated or circulated urban cores; or beautiful mountain highways that put vacation destinations on the map,” said Director Lew. “Transportation infrastructure can grow our economy, connect, and improve peoples’ lives in so many ways, but it can also carry costs — to the natural landscape, to neighborhoods, or to the air that we breathe. For half a century, NEPA has provided a vital framework for assessing those trade-offs.”
“We support reasonable modernization of the National Environmental Policy Act, but these proposed changes fundamentally undermine the law by willfully blinding agencies to the effects of their actions. They will prevent federal agencies from considering the full consequences of their actions and threaten the quality of Colorado’s air, water and soil. Federal agencies will not adequately consider how federal decisions affect ground-level ozone, greenhouse gases and water pollution,” said John Putnam, director of Environmental Operations at the Department of Public Health and Environment.
Putnam and Colorado Energy Office Executive Director Will Toor will also testify at today’s hearing.
“Colorado has adopted science-based emissions targets designed to align our state with the scale and pace of reductions needed to mitigate the worst of climate impacts,” said Colorado Energy Office Executive Director Will Toor. “We are working with businesses and communities across the state to reduce emissions while seizing the economic benefits and consumer cost savings of clean, zero-emissions electricity. The proposed changes to NEPA essentially eliminate all consideration of climate impacts in federal decision-making and will put us at risk for greater harm to our health, economy, iconic landscapes and quality of life.”
Colorado Department of Natural Resources executive director Dan Gibbs also weighed in.
“Since its passage in 1970, NEPA has allowed the State and citizens of Colorado to play informed, meaningful roles in federal decision-making and resulted in better federal projects though consideration of their broader impacts on Colorado’s natural resources and environment,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “I am concerned that a number of the modifications proposed by the Council on Environmental Quality will undermine the fundamental aspects of NEPA that have made it so successful and result in significant negative impacts to our state’s land, water, wildlife and natural resources.”
From the Colorado River Water Conservation District via The Aspen Daily News:
The Colorado River District will present an online seminar next week delving into the details of snowpack’s effect on water supply in an age of climate change.
The webinar, titled “Know Your Snow” and taking place at noon on Feb. 19, will feature presentations from Colorado River District Deputy Chief Engineer Dave Kanzer and Dr. Jeffrey Deems, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The presentation will highlight the latest research in snow science and the connections between snowpack and water supplies on Colorado’s Western Slope. Webinar participants will have a better understanding of our snow hydrology and its impact upon our water supplies in the face of our warming climate. They’ll also hear updates on current snowpack and snow monitoring on the Western Slope.
Over the last 20 years, snow scientists like Kanzer and Deems have noted that things are changing, causing water managers to grow concerned. Already, the Colorado River District is studying the risks to our snowpack and water supply to plan for an uncertain future.
“Snowfall and snowmelt patterns are less predictable,” Kanzer said. “Our water supply systems were designed and built in response to historical patterns, and they may also need to adapt and change. We’re seeing shorter snow accumulation seasons, more precipitation falling as rain and snow accumulating in smaller ranges on the mountainside. With these changes, we need to change our approaches to managing our water supply.”
“Know Your Snow” will explore these changes and how we might adapt. The event is free to attend, though you must register online.
From The Colorado Sun (Moe Clark):
To ensure that they don’t develop beyond the limits of their water supply, Riley says [Woodland Park] has closely integrated its land-use decisions with local water conservation and efficiency goals that align with the Colorado Water Plan.
A new bill at the Colorado Capitol hopes to encourage more local governments to do the same. House Bill 1095 says that if a community identifies it will need more water to grow, it should also include conservation measures for its existing supply.
“In a state that hates mandates, this is a gentle nudge for communities to make sure they are planning for the future when it comes to water,” said state Rep. Jeni Arndt, a Fort Collins Democrat who is bringing the bill.
The Colorado Water Plan five years ago set the goal that by 2025, 75% of Coloradans will live in communities that have incorporated water-saving actions into land-use planning.
Currently, 24 communities have completed the Sonoran Institute’s Growing Water Smart Training, a leading program that helps communities integrate land use planning and water conservation efforts, said Sara Leonard, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Leonard estimates that 15 to 20 more communities have participated in similar workshops, but many more would need to take part in order to meet the state’s goal…
HB20-1095 would also make permanent a temporary, partially grant-funded position in the Department of Local Affairs that assists local governments in integrating water conservation in their land use planning — though there is currently no money allocated in the bill to support the position.
“Historically, water resource planning and land-use planning have been implemented on parallel tracks. By separating these planning areas into different silos, the impacts from each on the other are not fully addressed,” Leonard said.
“With a growing population in Colorado, it is imperative to synchronize land and water planning to help planners to better understand the impact of new growth and redevelopment on future water demand in our urban areas.”
Today, Woodland Park has added dozens of regulations and ordinances into its zoning and building codes that focus on water conservation. It also limits the number of houses that can be built each year by setting a cap for how many new taps can be installed.
What the bill would do –– and what it wouldn’t
One of a dozen water bills introduced this session, ranging from water well inspections to fee exemptions, House Bill 1095 requires that if a local government’s comprehensive plan includes a water supply element, it must also include conservation policies.
A comprehensive plan is an advisory document that outlines long-term goals for community development, and often includes guidelines for things like transportation, utilities, land use, environmental protection, recreation and housing.
But comprehensive plans are not regulatory documents.
These conservation policies may include “goals specified in the state water plan, and may also include policies to implement water conservation and other state water plan goals as a condition of development approval, including subdivisions, planned unit developments, special use permits, and zoning changes,” the bill says.
Though state statute requires every municipality or county in Colorado to have a comprehensive plan, it doesn’t require them to include water element. But if it does, water conservation measures must be added the first time the plan is amended after the bill takes effect, but no later than July 1, 2025.
Gretel Follingstad, a Colorado-based land use planner and consultant who specializes in water resource management, said the language in the bill makes the recommendations “optional” and minimizes the bill’s potential impact.
“If you really want a strong policy around water, and you really want the state water plan goals to come to fruition, you need a will, not a may,” she said. “Because otherwise communities won’t do it if they don’t have the funding for it or they don’t have the political will, or if they don’t feel like they have a problem.”
But just by adding water into the local comprehensive plans, it’s changing the conversation, she said.
“We can’t change the fact that Colorado uses water districts as water suppliers and that those water districts are separate entities from their community,” Follingstad said. “All we can do is to teach the community planners that water is not infinite.”
In July, the Colorado Water Conservation Board released a technical analysis and update to the state’s supply and demand projections. The update examined water supply under five scenarios, with the two biggest drivers for water supply gaps being population growth and a warming climate.
The scenarios project that municipal and industrial water users may see water supply gaps ranging from 250,000 to 750,000 acre-feet by 2050. Approximately one acre-foot can support the needs of two families of four to five people a year, according to the Colorado Water Center at Colorado State University.
“It’s unlikely that conservation efforts can completely close the gap,” Arndt said. “But it can certainly help.”
Colorado Counties Inc., which lobbies on behalf of the state’ county governments, testified at the bill’s Feb. 3 hearing before the the House Rural Affairs and Agriculture Committee that its members worry the measure could open the door to formal regulations…
Gervais also added that counties and local governments already have the authority to include water planning in their land-use planning process. A 1991 law requires water utilities with a demand of greater than 2,000 acre-feet annually to have a water conservation plan.
“I’m glad we have that, but that’s not a substitute for a five- or 10-year visionary master plan,” Arndt said.
For Follingstad, comprehensive plans are crucial tools for communities envisioning the future. And that they can provide a policy framework for zoning and development regulations…
Avoiding the worst case scenario
Even though the bill doesn’t give local governments more authority, advocates hope it helps bring water conservation into the land-use conversation at the beginning of the community planning process, not the end.
“So, basically, utilities have been expected to come up with a supply to meet the demands,” Follingstad said.
“But when you insert population growth that’s beyond the capacities of many watersheds and water systems, and you insert climate change, which is making water, especially in the West, especially in Colorado because of the Colorado River compact, much more scarce — that’s not a sustainable system.”
Follingstad helped create the Growing Water Smart handbook — a guidebook that helps local governments integrate water conservation measures into their land use planning.
Since 2017, Colorado’s Water Conservation Board has worked with the Sonoran Institute and Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy to host Growing Water Smart workshops in communities across Colorado. The next workshop is May 6-8 in Breckenridge.
The training focuses on reducing the demand for water by utilizing three key strategies: decreasing water use by modifying consumption behaviors; using technology and optimizing building or site designs to use less water; and increasing water recycling.
She says Colorado lags behind other states in terms of integrating water conservation into land use plans. And that lack of governmental guidance has created a false sense of security for some communities.
“Everybody has to do something in order to create sustainability,” she said. “And this is a way of making sure that towns and communities across Colorado, No. 1, understand that there is a state water plan and that the goals in that plan are real and serious and have consequences. And two, that there is a way at the local level that they can make a difference.”
If signed into law, the bill would take effect on Aug. 5.